With a new levy set to be voted on in the November election, and with the recent Federal shutdown over budget debates as a backdrop, the residents of Corvallis, via their elected city officials, face a series of tough decisions on how their local government will be funded and what services it will provide.
Budget shortfalls, declining tax revenue, and deficit spending are not the sole purview of the Federal Government. The city of Corvallis faces stark choices over the coming years in terms of determining how, what, and to what degree city services will be funded.
As it stands, and due mostly to the HP ruling, the adopted General Fund budget, for Fiscal year(FY) 2013-2014, faces a 1.8 million revenue shortfall. The full city budget fares no better, with authorized expenses of 122 million, 6 million in excess of its revenue, 116 million.
Finance Director Nancy Brewer recognizes this, “On an on-going basis, the General Fund financial plan in the FY 13-14 budget reflects expenditures increasing faster than revenues, so the budget remains unsustainable. This is why the FY 14-15 budget process will be different, with a firm expenditure limit and a priority based budgeting process to achieve long-term financial sustainability.”
In order to bring expenditures in line with revenue back in 2011, for the FY 12-13 budget, City Manager Jim Patterson asked the budget directors of the city’s various departments to reduce their proposed budgets by 5.07%. This resulted in the City reducing its General Fund budget by over $6.4 million, closing a fire station, and cutting the equivalent of 27 Full time employees (FTE) positions citywide over the subsequent three fiscal years.
Broad based cuts of that nature were perceived as being detrimental to the overall community for the FY 13-14 budget, so the focus shifted away from cuts to public safety services. During an Oct 8th budget meeting, Patterson said that the cuts to the Police and Fire Departments implemented in FY 12-13 took both departments significantly below his expectations for levels of service and that further reductions in public safety were not in the community’s best interest.
For FY 13-14, $372,300 in budget reductions and a reduction of 2.33 FTE positions was adopted, with the focus shifting to reducing costs associated with Community Development, Parks & Recreation, the Library, and Public Works. Despite cuts made over the previous 3 years, the city is still spending more than it takes in .
In 2011, the Osborn Aquatic Center and Senior center were months from closing down and the library was set to make dramatic cuts to services and operational hours. In response, residents were asked to, and did, support an Optional Levy that provided the necessary funding, via a 45 cent tax on every 1000 dollar of assessed value (AV) for property to keep those services running. At the time, the average home was valued at approximately 249,000, making the average tax about 112 dollars. That levy is set to expire next year, and with it the funding that keeps those services afloat.
The proposed renewal levy, which would raise 3.2 million dollars a year, up from the 1.8 million from the previous levy, nearly doubles the tax to 81.81 cents per 1000 dollars of AV. The average home today is valued at around 263,000, meaning an average Corvallis homeowner can expect to pay about 215 dollars annually if this levy passes.
Simply put, 61.25% of the levy, .50 out of the .82 or about 1.9 million, will go to funding what the previous levy did; social services(3.32%), maintaining the Senior Center (9.97%) and Aquatic Center (13.33%), and funding the Library (33.22%). The remaining 38.75%, .32 out of the .82 or about 1.2 million, restores or rebuilds funds lost due to budget cuts and paying back the HP judgment. Paying back funds lost to the HP judgment represent the second largest segment of the levy (18.75%).
In addition, the city tacked on funding for three unfunded community policing positions, one resource officer for the 509j school district (12.83%), a Fire prevention officer (4.33%), a long range planning specialist (3.04%) and a health and safety code inspector (1.21%). In essence, the city is attempting to bridge funding gaps caused by declines in property tax revenue, rises in PERS costs, the HP judgment and the expiring levy. Also, it would appear the city has attached costs for some enhanced staffing to a levy they think will be passed.
For instance, is the one police officer per 1000 resident standard something Corvallis should meet, or is the current .96 ratio sufficient? Will another fire prevention officer offset risk for the North West section of town? Should the city fund a dedicated school district resource officer?
Also, does the library really need to be open 7 days a week? Do the Senior and Aquatic center serve a vital community interest? As it stands, the Corvallis library already receives 5.8 million in revenue from the city, while the Albany library operates on just under two million. The city pays out 1.5 million to operate and maintain the Aquatic center and though there are benefits to having a fully staffed state of the art center, is that really the way residents want to spend that money?
Right or wrong, the proposed does represent a large increase over the expiring levy and, it appears to seek funding that would seem to need to come from somewhere with other items that some voters may believe to be discretionary. As to the question of whether the new levy proposal is acceptable balance for the majority of Corvallisites will be answered November 5th.
by William Tatum